Even with the wealth of restaurants we have in the capital, those wanting to avoid meat and fish can find themselves short of options. Here’s a selection of 12 restaurants where you’re guaranteed to find more than a measly mushroom risotto. And as many of them aren’t fully vegetarian, they should keep carnivorous chums and omnivorous other halves happy, too.
Amico Bio, Smithfield & Holborn
London has two branches of this Italian restaurant which is not only vegetarian but organic, too. The owner, Pasquale, imports ingredients directly from his family-run farm in rural Italy and carefully sources the likes of cheeses and oils to ensure maximum flavour. This attention to detail shines through in the food we’ve tried, with plump, ripe tomatoes and tangy olives proving simple is often best. The generously topped pizzas and stuffed pastas are high points.
Gauthier Soho, Soho
French food can be something of a minefield for vegetarians, but here chef Alexis Gauthier seems determined to give vegetables a bit of love. What makes it particularly special is the inclusion of an all-vegetarian tasting menu, which has recently included the likes of cauliflower velouté with truffle parmesan, and candied beetroot carpaccio. The eight-dish tasting menu comes in at £60, and by all accounts is a fairly stunning affair that’s fitting of the restaurant’s Michelin star, though cheaper à la carte and lunch options are also available.
Grain Store, King’s Cross
An absolute favourite among many a vegetarian diner, this opening from Bruno Loubet at newly developed Granary Square puts vegetables firmly in the limelight. That’s not to say it’s meat free, with many of the vegetable dishes offset by the likes of bacon, game or chorizo, but rest assured that vegetarian options are plentiful and creative. So, expect mushrooms served with buttermilk and caraway braised cauliflower and grapes rather than in a risotto.
Manna, Primrose Hill
The menu at this almost half-a-century old restaurant is entirely vegetarian and largely vegan and organic, with a bit of raw food thrown in for good measure. For some this might be a bit much (maybe you’d rather have dairy cheese in your jalapeno croquettas instead of cashew ‘cheese’, for example) but for others it can offer one of the most accessible menus in London. Either way, the cooking is reliably sound and the potential blandness of no meat or dairy is carefully curtailed with herbs and spices.
A Soho institution, Mildred’s serves a dizzying array of vegetarian dishes ranging from burritos to burgers via pastas and curries, and has been doing so for over 20 years. Though such a diverse menu seems over ambitious, somehow this busy, buzzy spot pulls it off, managing to create dishes that although unfussy are reliably well-made and strongly-flavoured. That portions are on the large size and prices on the low is a bonus. Most of the options here are organic and you’ll find plenty of vegan and gluten-free options, so it’s also incredibly inclusive. The only downside to this is that when combined with a no-bookings policy, you should expect to queue.
The Modern Pantry, Clerkenwell
Chef Anna Hansen trained under Peter Gordon of The Providores, who’s known in the industry as the ‘king of fusion food’. She has certainly developed his knack for breathing vibrant life into salads, vegetable dishes and meaty options alike. It’s how good the vegetarian dishes here are, rather than the sheer number of them, which makes it stand out from the crowd for the veggie diner: try some black cumin roasted sweet potato with pomegranate, truffled cheese fritters, Persian lime and cardamom yoghurt, for example.
The Providores, Marylebone
More fusion flavours abound at this slick but fun restaurant from Peter Gordon where you’re promised a rollercoaster of flavours whether you’re eating meat or not. Asian and Antipodean ingredients lead, though absolutely nothing is off limits. The vegetarian take on a Sunday roast here deserves points for creativity: a crisp tofu skin pouch is stuffed with a spiced dahl made with aubergine, spinach and tomato, and dressed with a yellow-bean sauce. No monotony here.
To many, Yotam Ottolenghi’s recipe books have helped prove that vegetarian food need never be bland, whether at home or in a restaurant. Here, meat and fish options sit alongside fresh vegetable-led dishes of burrata with blood orange, and courgette fritters with spiced yoghurt, as well as the likes of baked savoury cheesecakes and truffled polenta. Breakfasts are also a strong point.
Ottolenghi, various locations
Also from Yotam, this eponymous mini-chain is an obvious inclusion in any veggie-friendly recommendation. These deli-come-restaurants in Islington, Notting Hill and Belgravia offer feisty salads and creative bakes, enlivened with spice, nuts and fruits. Though meat options are available, they take a firm back seat. There’s a good line in sweet treats for afterwards, too.
Vanilla Black, Chancery Lane
For many a vegetarian, all-veggie restaurants are a less attractive proposition than those all-rounders that also cater for non-meat eaters. Most will admit that Vanilla Black is an exception. Here, the likes of butternut squash risotto or goat cheese salads are a firm no-no, with creative dishes such as brie ice-cream, whipped jacket potato and whey poached celeriac replacing them on a menu of foams, pureés, towers and stacks galore. This is confident, clever cooking, if occasionally overblown, and though £39.50 for three courses feels somewhat steep given there’s no meat or fish involved, there’s no other vegetarian restaurant quite like it in London.
The Windsor Castle, Clapton
The kitchen at this hip pub is headed up by chef Oliver Rowe, who formerly ran Konstam near King’s Cross, which was the focus of a BBC documentary due to Rowe’s attempts to source everything he served from within the M25. He doesn’t go quite so far here, but locality, seasonality and sustainability are still at the core of The Windsor Castle’s constantly changing menu, and he uses veg as far more than an accompaniment to a bit of flesh. That said, there’s plenty of meat for those who want it.
The menu here blends Asian and European influences to interesting effect, scoring highly with vegetarians for the number of perky salads and vibrantly flavoured, unique dishes that just happen to be meat free. The slightly more clichéd Sunday nut roast also comes recommended.
We're sure there are plenty more restaurants out there that do a sterling job of catering for vegetarians. Let us know about them in the comments and we'll add them to this feature, or compile a fuller one down the line.
This article is part of our Best of London Food and Drink series. Visit the page for more recommendations of where to enjoy the capital's top food and drink, categorised by cuisine, food type and more.